CONSULTANTS fear operational challenges with the compulsory electronic tagging (EID) of sheep and goats in Victoria, due to inadequate software and traceability issues, outweigh industry gains.
Private and cross-border trade challenges of Victorian livestock due to the states new Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tagging regulations, which come into effect next year, has industry concerned the Victorian Government’s decision to enforce separate regulations from neighbouring states will not strengthen livestock traceability if there was a disease outbreak.
“It won’t be a state problem if an outbreak occurs it will be in the eyes of the world a national issue, that’s why it is important to work together, not state by state individually,” Driscoll McIllree & Dickinson’s Sally Ison, Horsham, Victoria, said.
“The aim of all this is we need to ensure that we have things in place in the event of a Stock Stand Still, regarding a disease outbreak, (so) we can lock it down quickly.”
Ms Ison, who has worked in the industry for 30 years and said she supported electronic tagging for farmers in feedlot situations, believed Victoria’s approach was ineffective reform to trace animals during disease and food safety emergencies.
The move exempts sheep and goats from other states that don’t have electronic identification to be slaughtered in Victorian abattoirs, however, sheep from south of the border need to be tagged.
Ms Ison said the inconsistencies between the states’ regulations raised issues about accountability when livestock were bought, sold or moved from one property, or single Property Identification Codes, to another, which must be electronically recorded on the National Livestock Identification System database in Victoria and visually in all other states.
These views were echoed by Australian Livestock & Property Agents Association (ALPA) chief executive Andy Madigan who said the industry was repeating the same mistakes made when the cattle industry were imposed with mandatory electronic tagging.
Mr Madigan said issues which affect traceability in the cattle industry would flow through to sheep and goats on a larger scale given the greater stock numbers.
These include missing or non-readable RFID tags, non-recording of property-to-property transfers by producers with an estimate of less than 25 per cent traceability back from the electronic tags to on-farm.
“It is called a national livestock identification scheme and not a state identification scheme for a reason,” Mr Madigan said.
“Victoria has chosen to go out on its own and it looks to us that they’re making the same mistakes as the cattle industry when RFID was introduced, with different states doing it at different times, with cross-border challenges roaring its head.
“We would have liked to have consultation before Victoria went on their own way so the industry was united in a national, non-mandatory RFID system.”
ALPA does not support the mandatory implementation of EID because Mr Madigan said the added cost did not contribute to a substantial industry benefit, including the reduction of slaughter as a result of a disease outbreak.
“Putting a tag in their ear simply doesn’t give traceability,” he said.
“Data has to be uploaded to the (NLIS) database and we already know producers in Victoria have not been doing this well for property to property (livestock) movements.”
He said calls to the Victorian Government for information on trials which prove the software was successful had gone unanswered.
During the announcement last week, Victorian Agricultural Minister Jaala Pulford said EID technology was currently functioning in Victoria for on-farm production and abattoir systems, with similar systems in place and operating for several years internationally.
However, Achieve Ag Solutions consultant Nathan Scott said by far the greatest benefit from using eID on farm was understanding production within producers’ flocks.
Production gains can be cumulative from genetic selection pressure, which Mr Scott said included fleece weight, micron, weight gain, kilograms of lamb weaned. He said this would result to the in immediate improvement in average performance of the flock through culling the poor performers and flexibility in stocking rate through being able to sell off poorer performing animals if the season warrants it.
“I genuinely believe eID will be the catalyst for significant change within our industry,” Mr Scott said.
“Electronic tagging provides the opportunity to inject technology into the supply chain.
“With new carcase measurements coming into play, and a better understanding of individuals on-farm, I truly believe we will see more change in our industry in the next 10 years than we have seen in the last 50.”
He said in the early stages some processors would provide information on hot standard carcase weight and in some cases a palpated fat score, with lean meat yield, objectively measured fat, and even some meat eating quality traits on the horizon.
“These will be game changes for the lamb industry as they introduce the opportunity to change the payment system to a value based payment system,” Mr Scott said.
“The market signals from our industry as it stands are almost non-existant - we have a carcase weight range and that is it.
“The new system will be good for consumers, processors, and drive improvement from producers - after all, it is the consumer that is most important.”